Saturday, January 29, 2011


1.Confused: puzzled, bewildered.

2. To have one's attention occupied: Distracted, absorbed.

3. Having feelings of wry or tolerant amusement.

I'm Bemused. Sometimes confused; often puzzled; sometimes bewildered; frequently distracted by the things I find inexplicable - like, for example, people in general, for whom I attempt to maintain feelings of wry or tolerant amusement.

People are crazy.

Not just some people - all people: Me, you, everybody.

Eveyone is crazy, in various ways. I have come to the conclusion that everyone, even the most seemingly rational or analytical engineers or scientists (or maybe especially them) for the most part think and act out of emotion rather than logic. Human thought does not normally process data by deductive logic. In general, people come to a conclusion without much, if any, rational reasoning at all, and then, if forced to defend their conclusion, they seek to use some form of supposedly logical analysis to rationalize whatever conclusion they have already become emotionally attached to.

The so-called "scientific method" in fact starts with a hypothesis. But where did the hypothesis come from?  The hypothesis comes magically, springing from the genius, the imagination, the inexplicable creative mind.  It comes from the creative, irrational imagination that makes us human: sometimes endearingly, and sometimes maddeningly, human.  It is what separates us from computers and robots.  The supposedly rational scientific examination of the hypothesis comes afterwards, after the scientist already has an emotional attachment to his hypothesis.  But that is often rationalization over rationale.

I cannot prove this theory about the way people think so irrationally. I could use logical reasoning to defend it, but it would be irrational to do so, since I would be defending the theory that my defense is in fact merely an irrational attempt to rationalize conclusions I am actually defending for emotional rather than rational reasons.  Proving rationally that I am irrational would not make a lot of sense. Bewildered yet? Bemused?

If I am convinced that we are irrational, but for irrational reasons, does that then, by the double negative, actually make me rational? No.

So we end up with the fact that people hold to some particular position with great emotion and tenacity, but without any real reason. They create reasons, but they could (and would) just as easily create opposite reasons should they for whatever reason have seized upon the opposite point of view.

There are Ford people, Chevy people, Toyota people, Honda people, Volvo people (that last one is virtual proof of irrationally - but that's just my irrational opinion): for whatever reasons, they have developed an attachment to a particular make of car and find reasons to feel that their chosen make is in some way superior.

There are PC (Windows) people and Mac people. Both of them view the others with amused superiority. "Objectively," each has pros and cons, but try to get a Mac true believer to admit that. And then there are the geeks and nerds who are convinced that Linux (or something else most of us have never heard of) is the only rational operating system.

Note that when I say "objectively," all I am really saying is that my own (possibly irrational) opinion is (to me) obviously correct.

There are Democrats and there are Republicans. Each think the country is going to hell because of the other. Both are probably right correct. In spite of the fact that "objectively" all political parties have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not possess any solutions that will create peace, prosperity, justice, balance the budget, run good schools, or even fill potholes or catch stray dogs, still people passionately believe that their chosen party getting elected would hugely improve the country or the world. Apparently, whatever party there might be of which that is true has never won an election. There are many adherents to those minor parties that never win elections who are absolutely convinced that is true. We call them crackpots.  They think everybody else is crazy.  They are correct, but they are also crazy.

There are USC fans, and UCLA fans. I am a USC fan, even though I have worked for UCLA for the last 25 years. Once a Trojan, always a Trojan. Why? Because I caught the fanatacism going to school there and playing in the marching band. I'm not saying there is any better reason for being a UCLA fan. Far from it. That would be just as irrational, except that it could be in my own self interest to have my employer making lots of money off a successful football team (fat chance). I could give you lots of seemingly rational reasons for being a USC fan (starting with, they can actually, sometimes, win football games) but that would really just be rationalization, not rationale.  And anyway, what is at all rational about sports?

Obviously this applies to religion, but that's a whole 'nother blog.

What never ceases to amaze me is how hard it is to get this point across to people. They may get the idea in some way, but when it comes to applying it their particular pet theories, they just can't see any possibility whatsoever that they might not have the whole truth about it.  That people are so unable to recognize their own irrationality is the perfect demonstration of their irrationality.

I think that the more people can recognize their insanity, the more sane they actually might be. The truly insane are the ones with absolutely no doubts: who are convinced that they are perfectly sane and everybody else is crazy. Or, as a good friend of mine is fond if saying: "When you decide that you are sane and everybody else is crazy, don't tell anyone."

Now many readers (if there are any) may be thinking, well, yes, we all do some crazy things at times, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.  I don't think so.  We are not just crazy once in a while.  Fundamentally, our entire lives at their very root are driven by passions, obsessions, mania, assumptions, presumptions, prejudices, lusts, desires, neuroses, wishes, dreams, and delusions that have no rational basis.  Just because psychologists ignore those forms of insanity that don't overly affect one's ability to survive does not make the rest of us truly sane or rational.  Everything about your life is based on choices for which the rational basis is at best highly disputable, if not absent entirely.  While our conclusions do occasionally follow logically from our irrational assumptions, that does not make us rational or sane. It takes logical thinking to play Soduko, but there is no logical reason to play it at all.  It is just "for fun."  The terrorist who blows people up, and the physician who patches them up, may both act out of conclusions that may indeed follow logically from their different basic assumptions.

Rationality, and sanity, may  truly be over-rated. 

Life is irrational.  I can see no rational reason in science or religion for life to exist, except that possibly, God got lonely.  Would that have been rational of God?

Love is totally irrational, but Love is the greatest thing of all.  At least, a lot of people think so.  But then who's rational enough to truly say?

The best things in life: love, joy, beauty, music, sex, chocolate, are all emotional, not rational.  What is beauty anyway?  It is "in the eye of the beholder."  Often, the best parts of life are the irrational parts that we call "play," while the the worst are the rational parts we call "work."

But carrying this to the "logical" conclusion (ha!) one would conclude that there is nothing we can be totally sure of, nothing we can totally believe in, nothing we can have absolute faith in, nothing worth being passionate about: It causes me to tend to stand aside as a bemused bystander, unengaged in any cause; seeing the irrationality all around me, and unwilling to commit wholeheartedly to anything. The safest position to take is no position because I can never be wrong. But then, I also can never be right.  Except, of course, when I get emotionally (i.e. irrationally) involved in a position of some sort. Then it's different!

Perhaps instead of being unsure of everything, it's better just to choose something, anything, and get passionate about it, even if you can't "objectively" prove that it is going to improve the world. Maybe being passionate about a lost cause or wrong cause is a happier way of life than having no cause or purpose at all. Perhaps Don Quixote was actually happier insanely tilting at windmills than his sane servant Sancho. I find that idea attractive in certain ways, but hard to adopt whole heartedly, because obviously, that's the way I am: Indecisive, bewildered, bemused; and it is hard to pretend to myself that I have no doubts about something when I do.  Many people get passionate about things that they fundamentally know are useless: Hobbies, collections, games, sports, Facebook.  Just pick a passion and go with it.

I long ago concluded that decisiveness requires the ability to come to a conclusion and then ignore all evidence to the contrary. That seems objectively like a bad thing, but in fact, those people get way more stuff accomplished than those like me who can't put on the blinders as easily. It is safer to stay detached and uncommitted than to plunge ahead knowing you could be going the wrong way. That same friend I mentioned also likes to say "Do something, even if it's wrong." Or as my elementary school orchestra teacher said: "If you're going to make a mistake, make a good one!" In many cases, it is probably better to just pick a direction and go that way. At least, you will have an adventure getting lost, and at least you will get somewhere, even if it wasn't where you thought you wanted to go.  But rational?  Not.

Rationally, blogging doesn't make a lot of sense. But who cares? Nothing in life is really all that rational anyway. I'm plunging ahead with this, just for the adventure.  Or whatever.

So, there you have me in a nutshell (or nut house). Bemused. Taking a viewpoint of tolerant amusement while pretending to a position of superior rationality, but knowing I must be just as irrational as everybody else.


  1. As i read this, I got up and opened all the window blinds, even though it is still technically dark out. But, I did this because I don't like to feel closed it. And yet the walls are still here. And I don't really want to be drinking my coffee outside because it is cold out there and I thought to myself "yet another example of my insanity."

    I think that owning our insanity and realizing that our reasons for doing or thinking certain things only makes sense as long as you don't think too hard about it, is the part that keeps us going.

    I am not saying that you shouldn't think too hard or that you shouldn't explore why we think and do things. But, that at some point, as your friend said, we just have to do something. And sometimes the things that seem "crazy" or insane are the ones that help us take big steps forward (ie Columbus, Lewis & Clark, Putting a man on the moon...). And it is that non rational, imaginative hypothesizing that gives us a sense of why purpose. However, I am sure that the Unibomber also felt the same way....

    Knowing we are all crazy, should help us be more tolerant of other's insanity...Or, maybe it is more like you said, "a viewpoint of tolerant amusement"

  2. I forgot to say in my other comment that I am so sorry this happened to Lyn, to you and your family.
    I don't know what to say about your musings are an engineer after all and I'm sure you feel better when things make sense. But I am so glad you have started this blog. I sense that it is helping.--Inger